We’ve all seen that horribly facile Oliver Stone film, “The Doors” and we still watch it anyway, even though it sucks– thus is the power of Jim Morrison. He still captures our inner belligerent souls. And Val Kilmer looked and imagined Morrison they way we believed him to be. If only Val had a script to work with.
One thing that really bothered me was the scene in the movie, when Jim Morrison meets Nico and she says, “Hi, want to fuck?” Or something equally ridiculous. Nico wasn’t that vulgar, uncouth or stupid. But now for millions of kids, Nico is thought of as a moronic floozy instead of the serious artist that she was. I’m getting sick of bio-pics that get it all wrong and re-write the facts, which happen to be even more fascinating than the tripe we are fed on the screen. Which brings me to “The Nod Monastery,” my corrective of what really happened the night Jim Morrison met Nico, and I think you’ll agree it’s a lot more passionate and dramatic than anything Oliver Stone could dream up.
Steve Harris: I got into the record business when Dick Clark still had his daily TV. show, and I always thought good looks sold records. So later, when I was working for Elektra Records and when I saw Jim Morrison, I told Jac Holzman, “If this guy can read the phone book, we’re in!”
Danny Fields: Jim Morrison had an extra-planetary quality; he was from another planet. He was from another stage of evolution. There’s very few people I’ve known in my life that have something so extra that there’s no words for it. I could say that about Andy Warhol, Janis Joplin and Dante. And now Jim Morrison.
Steve Harris: I would send pictures of Jim Morrison over to Gloria Stavers at 16 magazine and I’d put a rose on the outside of the package, because 16 magazine was more important than anything else. But Gloria said, words to the effect of, “Yeah, maybe I’ll use something on Morrison, and I know he’s important, but he’s not important to my audience…”
Then Gloria calls me up a few days later and says, “I’m using Jim Morrison in a full-page picture.” I said, “What’s happened?”
She said, “I just got a call from Dino, Desi, and Billy, they want to go on tour with The Doors. Maybe I miscalculated Morrison, if he’s with hip with the Dino, Desi, and Billy crowd and they like him, you know, the thirteen, fourteen, fifteen-year old’s, that’s our audience!”
Then she said to me, “I need a copy of all of Jim’s lyrics. I’ll print them….”
And I knew if Gloria wants Jim to write out all of his lyrics, and print them in 16, that means she’s going all the way with Jim Morrison and The Doors!
Gloria Stavers: I don’t think Jim Morrison was clamoring to be in 16. And I don’t want to pull teeth when I’m interviewing him, or photographing him, and I’ve heard he’s an uneasy person….
Steve Harris: Gloria didn’t really want to do anything with The Doors, unless she knew Jim could follow it up and not be an embarrassment to her. Gloria doesn’t want to push Jim unless she feels she can have some sort of control. I mean, I understand that; the worst thing she can do is have some guy all over 16 magazine and then the guy turns out to be a pedophile. Or the guy turns out to be a complete alcoholic and crazy, which happened later, but not at that moment. So I called Danny and I tell him what the story is and I said, “Now Gloria is going to go all the way with Jim and The Doors, so go out to California and make sure Jim calls Gloria…”
Danny Fields: Thus, I was dispatched to the West Coast in order to supervise the phone call between Gloria Stavers and Jim Morrison, which was the first time they had ever spoken.
Jim and I had agreed to meet at the offices of Electra Records in Los Angeles, which we were both able to drive to. He was living in some motel off of Fountain Avenue, but his car– a little red two-door thing– was really his home. Everything was in the car.
Gloria Stavers: Jim was with Danny when he called. I said, “Is he listening right now?” Danny said “No, he went into the bathroom a minute ago….”
I said, “Well, listen, I have to ask you something now, if I talk to him and eventually meet him, I don’t want to talk to anybody who’s on any drugs. I’ve had enough of all that and 16 can’t handle anybody who has drug problems….”
Danny said, “No, no, no, it’s not like that. He’s like you, he finds all that unattractive. He’s probably tried this and that, but it doesn’t mean anything. He just has a drink now and then….”
Danny Fields: Gloria Stavers had been a courtesan, which is to say, a high-priced call girl. Older European men at the El Morocco Club, were Gloria sat at the best table, I’m sure had a network of women who were older and beautiful and discreet and weren’t going to pee on the table. And seeing the Genesis of Gloria’s career, from a fashion model– to drinking and dancing at el Morocco– and the European men giving her lots of presents– of which Sixteen magazine was the jewel in her crown. I mean, who could know then how smart and fabulous Gloria was until she got down to work?
At Elektra. when Jim came on the phone, he talked in very low voice, strangely reminding me of Marilyn Monroe. Like James Dean did, and Brando too; it makes you have to listen, and once you get tuned into it, you do listen.
Then Gloria said goodbye to Jim and told him she wanted to say goodbye to me. When I got back on the phone, Gloria said, “Keep your eye on that one, he’s got everything. He’s fucking hot. He’s so smart, be very careful of him.”
I thought, “Watch him closely?” Telling me that was like handing me a cobra. I looked over at Jim thumbing through a magazine in Billy James’s office and thought, “”Watch him? Get out of here!”
So then we finished up in the Elektra office and walked out onto the street together, I said to Jim, “So where’ve you been?”
Then I convinced Jim that I was staying at a lonely, romantic, hilltop Castle with gardens, pools, frogs and palms and lizards and bugs. That it was so spectacular and it was right in the neighborhood. Then I invited Jim to follow me to the Castle to meet a beautiful Nordic goddess named Nico, who was also a poet. Jim was suitably impressed with the prospect of meeting the girl from “La Dolce Vita,” that he agreed to follow me to the Castle in his car. While he was following me down Sunset Boulevard was when I first came in contact with the sadistic side of Jim.
He sensed that I was not a person who drove a lot, and he knew I was nervous about having to drive through Hollywood traffic, while keeping someone in my rear view mirror the whole time, so he made it a point to stay three blocks behind me for the entire trip. With about thirty cars between us. So I had to pull over all of the time, and wait for him to show up in the damn mirror. Why? To torment me. Then he’d suddenly appear with this diabolical grin, like, “What’s the matter? I’ve been here all along, I’ve been following you, what’s your problem?”
Ronnie Cutrone: Jim Morrison could be a prick.
Danny Fields: The entrance to this Spanish-styled mansion where Nico and Edie were staying, called “The Castle,” was an oval driveway that went around this fountain, with a very old and neglected garden that surrounded the house. The Castle was spectacular until you tapped on the walls and realized this house was made out of dust and spit. You half expected to see creatures, worse than Griffins, coming out and eating you. No wonder Nico and Edie were afraid to be alone up there. It was creepy.
I parked and got out of the car, and Dino Valenti was there kissing Edie Sedgwick in the driveway. Dino was the singer who wrote “Get Together,” that the Youngbloods got a hit with.
Dino who was a cute guy with curly black hair and a wicked heroin habit. Edie Sedgewick was of course the Sixties “IT” who was hanging out with Warhol. Saying that Edie looked fabulous, was like asking if the Pope looked Catholic!
How could she not look fabulous? She was intrinsically, inevitably fabulous.
I walked past them, carrying my suitcase into the house. Of course, I carried a lot of drugs with me. I carried pharmaceuticals, mainly amphetamines, but I also had a large supply of opiate suppositories for the deserving population of the West Coast. You didn’t give one to everybody; there were only a dozen, and they were in a little box wrapped like chocolates, so they looked like chocolate bullets.
Nico was in the kitchen looking for ice, and I said, “What should I do with this bag? Where can I stay?”
Nico just shook her head and said, “Uhhh, yooou know that roooom…”
I said, “I have some friends with me…”
I introduced her to David Newman, and then said, “Nico this is Jim Morrison, and Jim this is Nico…”
Of course, neither Jim or Nico said a word to the other. They stood and circled each other. I don’t know if you were a Japanese Master from the Nod Monastery and the guy from the next Monastery came over and they had a nodding contest, it would be like that. Only it was Nico and Jim Morrison doing the nodding– to each other, and they both won– they tied.
They were so non-physically acknowledging of the other, it was so spectacular. It was just as if time stopped– and it stopped for you being part of the introduction– and it stopped because you wondered what the fuck was going to happen with these two monsters.
Then they stood and stared at some celestial reflection on the floor in the kitchen. Some way the sun came in through the window and hit the floor. They stood forty or fifty feet apart at opposite ends of the room and stared at this non-existent object, which was only changing with the rotation of the earth. For Hours. I mean hours. And they didn’t say a word.
Eventually, Nico just turned around and went up to take one of her three-hour baths, so I took Jim up to my room where we could have a nice little talk about his future. It was the typical Publicist-to-Artist conversation that you would imagine. I told Jim, “Life is a roller coaster, and stardom is a trip…”
I didn’t know what I was talking about, I had never been near stardom, really. I was just sounding like every movie I’d ever seen on the subject: you know, what’s in store, you play the game, doors you never dreamed existed, blah, blah, blah, and Jim, who also had a nearly full quart of vodka with him, would just open his palm, about every five minutes, and ask for another drug. And I’d ask him, “So Jim, what do you think?”
And he’d just be like, “Got any more acid, man?”
He had smoked about a quarter of an ounce of hash, taken probably six hits of orange sunshine, had swallowed my entire stash of ups, and was downing it all with straight vodka.
This was enough drugs for me and everybody I met for two weeks in California. Minus what Edie had taken. Eventually I passed out. But not before I went out to his car, took the keys out of the ignition, and hid them underneath the mat. We were, after all, in the Hollywood Hills, and I was afraid he’d drive drunk right off a cliff on the treacherous Glendower Drive and kill himself, and I’d be fired from Elektra.
I mean, I was there on Elektra money and it wouldn’t be seemly to lose the lead singer on account of the publicist getting him so stoned, so I essentially kidnapped him.
Jim did not react well to me hiding his car keys. He threatened me. He screamed at me. “Where are the keys to my car?” I lied. I said, “I don’t even know what they look like.” There was no other car there, someone had borrowed mine and drove away. So Jim couldn’t get out of there. He knew I had taken his keys, but he was too stoned to do anything about it.
And of course, Jim hated me from that moment on.
Steve Harris: Jim called me at home and he wasn’t too coherent; he said that Danny took the keys to his car and wouldn’t give them back. I could see that Jim wasn’t right, and if Danny took his keys, it was because he didn’t want Jim to drive. I think Danny might have saved Jim’s life that night.
Val Kilmer as Jim Morrison and Christina Fulton as Nico in Oliver Stone's movie "The Doors"
Danny Fields: Later that night, I went to sleep and then Nico came running into my room, crying, “HE’S GOING TO KILL ME! HE’S GOING TO KILL ME!”
I said, “Oh leave me alone, Nico! I’m trying to sleep!”
She was sobbing, “Whoo hoo hoo!” She went back outside, and then I heard her screaming. I looked through the window into the courtyard, and Jim was pulling her hair, so I went back to bed. Then David Newman came running into my room, screaming, “GET UP! GET UP! YOU WON’T BELIEVE WHAT’S HAPPENING DOWN THERE!”
So I got up again and Nico was out on the driveway, still sobbing, while Jim was naked in the moonlight climbing around the rooftop. What’s the name for those sawtooth-things?
Parapets? It was those phony parapet-things on the roof to make it look like a Castle, and they were about two feet apart, and he was naked jumping from one parapet to the other.
It was late. Very late. It was four o’clock in the morning, the moon was about to set, and as I watched Jim Morrison galivanting on the roof, I thought, “I just stole this fucking guy’s car keys and hid them so he wouldn’t drive off a cliff, and NOW he’s going to fall off the fucking roof!? So I found even more pills, took a large dose and went back to sleep.
The only outcome from introducing Jim to Nico was Morrison’s wrath. He came to hate me because I meddled in his life. I restricted his freedom. I acted out of place. Everyone was supposed to be his servant and I took it upon myself to an act that was tantamount to kidnapping him by making it impossible for him to get out of the Castle for three days. I’d tried to save his life by taking his car keys, but then he almost fell off the roof.
Steve Harris: Danny hiding Jim’s car keys started what I would consider a minor feud between Danny and Jim, but Jim developed it into, “Keep him out of the same room I’m in!”
Later, we were all at some Doors’ party, and Pamela Courson, Jim’s girlfriend, came up to me right in the middle of this party and said, “Will you ask Danny Fields to leave?”
I had always gotten along well with Pamela, so I just listened, and then went on about my business, and forgot it, you know? Then Jim came up about a half an hour later and said, “Will you please tell Danny Fields to leave?”
And I said, “I’ll tell you what, Jim, you tell him to leave.”
As soon as I said, “Jim, you tell him to leave,” I could see in his eye where he backed down immediately. Of course, Jim didn’t have the guts to say anything.
Gloria Stavers: [Jim] came to Elektra and wearing a snakeskin suit. Reception said, “What’s that? Is that a snakeskin suit?” He said, “Yes,” she said, “Where’s the snake?” He said, “inside.”
Steve Harris: The way Gloria Stavers had the affair with Jim Morrison was this; Gloria wanted to take pictures of him, and she wanted to talk to me about the possibility of Life magazine. This was pretty early on, right before “Light My Fire” broke, and you know the famous photo where Jim’s wearing a fur coat? Those were all taken one night after the dinner in this Chinese restaurant. I was there with all The Doors, and then Gloria kind of gave me a high sign and I split with Robby Krieger, Ray Manzarek and John Densmore, and Jim spent the night with her.
Danny Fields: Gloria chased them all away and had sex with him.
Steve Harris: Did Gloria tell me about it the next day? You don’t think I wasn’t gonna ask? Ha! Ha! So I said, “How was it?”
Gloria said, “You know in ‘The End?’ How it drags out and drags out?”
I said, “Yeah?”
She goes, “You know before he lets out that scream?
I said, “Yeah?”
She said, “That’s Jim.”
Attributions: Steve Harris interviewed by Legs McNeil ©2022 by Legs McNeil
Gloria Stavers from the archives of Danny Fields, used by Permission.
Danny Fields interviewed by Legs McNeil, ©2022 by Legs McNeil.
INTRODUCTION TO MY COURSE:
ZEN AND THE ART OF THE NARRATIVE ORAL HISTORY
©2021-2022 by Legs McNeil (Based on the techniques developed by Legs McNeil)
Too long has the Oral History format been thought of as the bastard child of literature; assumed to be a “cut and paste” job for hack writers looking to make an easy buck. In other words, the bottom of the prose barrel. But when the art of the narrative oral history is mastered, it can transform the written spoken word by primary subjects—people who were in the room when the event occurred—into actually experiencing the event being described, with all the human emotion, even more so than the traditional omnipotent narrator.